Where have you been, ask shopkeepers as Boris joins clean-up

As he fought to be heard, there were cries of 'How was your holiday?' and 'Why are you here three days late?'

Boris Johnson faced furious heckling from residents clearing up wrecked parts of south London as he returned from holiday to try tosalvage his administration's battered reputation for competence.

Clutching a bright green broom, the Mayor proclaimed the "real spirit of London" during a walkabout in some of the worst affected parts of the capital. But he faced a barrage of angry taunts and questions from people helping the clean-up operation in Clapham. "Why are you here now," shouted one. "It's too late."

Standing next to him, the grim-faced Home Secretary, Theresa May, looked on uncomfortably – before eventually walking off and deserting the Mayor while he was still in mid-flow.

Fighting to be heard above a growing crowd demanding answers, Mr Johnson, back from his holiday in Canada after the first two nights of rioting, said: "I want to say first of all to everybody who owns a shop, to everybody who owns a business here, how very sorry I am for the loss and the damage that you have suffered."

Mr Johnson said he understood that there were questions about the police response, but promised that the perpetrators would be "punished".

"I also want to say to the people who have been involved in instigating these riots, those who've been robbing and stealing, that they will be caught, they will be apprehended, they will face punishments that they will bitterly regret."

Mr Johnson faced chants of "How was your holiday, Boris?" as he tried to condemn the violence. Others shouted "How did you sleep last night" and "Why are you here, three days late". Others wanted to know why there had not been a greater police response. "You talk about a robust police response but what does that actually mean?" asked one man.

Mr Johnson said it would mean a "huge number of police on the streets". But another member of the crowd shot back: "That's what we were told last night."

Mr Johnson's aides will be concerned that less than a year away from his re-election campaign his perceived lax response to the rioting has gone down badly with a key constituency.

At the last election, the Mayor received significant support from the business community and polled well in parts of outer London like Ealing which were badly hit by Monday night's riots. His Labour opponent Ken Livingstone was quick to make political capital out of his difficulties.

"The police have to be confident that the Mayor stands behind them," he said. "When I was in Singapore and we had bombs going off in London I wanted to be back immediately. You can't just be a mayor when you are opening fetes. You have to be there for the city when it's going wrong."

While the Conservative leadership need Mr Johnson to win in May there is increasing irritation in Downing Street over what they perceive to be his self-serving aggrandisement and his use of the Mayor's platform to attack his own party. No one in the Government came to Mr Johnson's defence over his reluctance to cut short his holiday and he was not included in any of the crisis talks between the Home Secretary and Prime Minister on Sunday and Monday.

"It used to be a case of 'Boris is Boris' but we've gone beyond that now," said one senior government source. "Relationships between Mr Johnson and Mr Cameron are at an all-time low."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices Simon Usborne: It's not about political correctness. It's about decency
Sport
Wojciech Szczesny watches the ball cross the line as Garath McCleary scores for Reading
football All the latest from Wembley as Gunners face Reading in semi-final
Life and Style
health
News
i100
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...